Customer Review

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A prose poem..., 10 Jan 2011
This review is from: Nightwood (Paperback)
... is T. S. Eliot's description of Djuana Barnes novel. It is that, and much more. I first read this novel almost 40 years ago; felt I understood very little of it. In the intervening time I have walked past, and patronized the Café de la Mairie, a backdrop for much of the action, on the north side of the square in front of St. Sulpice numerous times. Unquestionable a radically different café in the `30's, certainly not surrounded by the very chic shops of today. The Café "nagged" me into giving it a second try.

I am truly grateful that it was not a school assignment. I imagined a Professor expecting effusive praise, and that my report on the book would have to be filled with ramblings on "transgender identification," "anomie," "angst," "symbolism," "codependence," "transcendent wisdom" and of course, "stream of consciousness." And with a bit of luck, I might get a B -.

But when your main motivation is a pleasant café, and a "does-your-perspective-improve-with-age" attitude, then what? No question the prose is rich and dense, with wonderful insights, coupled with sheer and utter nonsense. Consider some of the wonderful passages: "Love is the first lie; wisdom the last." or "We give death to a child when we give it a doll--it's the effigy and the shroud; when a woman gives it to a woman, it is the life they cannot have, it is their child, sacred and profane:..." There is a wonderful analogy for love in the ducks in Golden Gate park so heavy on overfeeding that they cannot fly. But regrettably these oscillate with the utter nonsense of: "He had a turban cocked over his eye and a moaning in his left ventricle which was meant to be the whine of Tophet, and a loin-cloth as big as a tent and protecting about as much." And that is why so many readers, including myself, find the book such a difficult read. Brilliance, alternating with the drug-induced ramblings worthy of William Burroughs, NOT, James Joyce.

"Baron" Felix seems the best drawn, and most understandable of the characters. His child, Guido, likewise, for a minor character. The four central characters: Robin Vote, Nora Flood, Jenny Petherbridge and Dr. Matthew O'Connor all seemed far too opaque, motivation is clearly lacking for so many of their actions. True, a central theme is lesbian love, and its betrayals, with bit parts for transvestitism. All of which I am constitutional incapable of having deep insights into... but still, if reading is too illuminate, there was only a small candle glowing on these issues.

I was struck by the quality of the other reviews on this book, the best, by far, of any other book on Amazon. Many of their insights do not need to be duplicated in this one - one commenter in fact said there was no need to write one after reading Eric Anderson's. Yes, it is an excellent review.

Overall I settled on a 3-star rating. It is a provocative, radical book, particularly for the `30's, with some wonderful insights into the human condition. But it is so hard to stay focused when these are combined with the William Burroughs nonsense. (Sorry, "Professor.") It was with a sense of profound relief that I finished the book, realizing in the unlikely event I have another 40 years to go, there will not be a third try.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on January 09, 2009)
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